Animals


This post is motivated, in part, by a short interview with Eugene Peterson and Peter Harris (co-founder of A Rocha) in Christianity Today, where they discuss “creation care”.  The full interview can be read here.  At one point Peter Harris draws attention to the prophecy in Hosea 4, in particular verse 3:

“Therefore the land will mourn,

and all its inhabitants will perish.

The wild animals, the birds of the sky,

and even the fish in the sea will perish.” (NET Bible)

Here’s what Peter Harris says:

“That’s a prophecy three millennia before we have the words for a marine crisis. Who would have thought that the fish of the sea would die? Until modern times, the fish of the sea seemed like an inexhaustible resource.”

I’d like to back that up with some of the most recent scientific reporting on extinctions.  Firstly mass extinctions can be characterized as times when the Earth loses more than three-quarters of its species in a geologically short interval.  Palaeontologists have classified 5 of these mass extinctions over the past ~540 million year.  However, data on current extinction rates suggests that the world is being propelled into a sixth mass extinction [1].

In regards to the the fish in the sea … the International Programme on the State of the Ocean is just releasing a report [2] (also BBC article here) which warns in no uncertain terms that if our current trajectory of damage continues “the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.


References:

[1] Anthony D. Barnosky, Nicholas Matzke, Susumu Tomiya, Guinevere O. U. Wogan, Brian Swartz, Tiago B. Quental, Charles Marshall, Jenny L. McGuire, Emily L. Lindsey, Kaitlin C. Maguire, et al. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 471, 51-57 (2 March 2011) DOI: 10.1038/nature09678

[2] Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d’A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp.

As I’ve been reading through the book of Job I have been noting how the book is ladened with a deep appreciation of nature (see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4).  At the climax of the poem/debate – God’s speech from the whirlwind, we encounter a full tour-de-force of creation.  In fact chapters 38-41 have been referred to as ‘the first great piece of modern nature writing’ (Bill McKibben).  God’s speech – really a series of rhetorical questions for Job, presumably designed to put Job (and us) in his (our) place!?, progresses from Cosmogony (38:4-11):

”     …                                                                                                                   Who hedged the sea with double doors,                                                                                        when it gushed forth from the womb.                            when I made cloud its clothing,                                                                                                     and thick mist its swaddling bands?                                      …     “

to Meteorology (38:22-38):

”       …                                                                                                                  Does the rain have a father,                                                                                                      or who begot the drops of dew?                                             From whose belly did the ice come forth,                                                                                  to the frost of the heavens who gave birth?                                    …     “

to Zoology (38:39-39:40):

”     …                                                                                                                         Do you know the mountain goats’ birth time,                                                                 do you mark the calving of the gazelles?                                           Do you number the months till they come to term                                                         and know their birthing time?                                                            …    “

and even to mythological zoology (40:15-41:26):

”    …                                                                                                                         Could you draw Leviathan with a hook,                                                                                 and with a cord press down his tongue?                                     Could you put a lead line in his nose,                                                                                    and with a fishhook piece his cheek?                                               …    ”

(Translations from Robert Alter)

The full grandeur of this astonishing outburst from God can not be fully appreciated from the limited quotes provided above, so I would encourage people to read the whole section (NET Bible).  There is so much to comment on here perhaps I’ll have time in a future post to say more.

I have recently been reading through the book of Job using the new translation of Robert Alter that I received for Christmas.  The writer of Job obviously had a keen eye and deep appreciation of nature as is evident in much of the language used throughout the book.  Here is a classic example in Chapter 4, where we have an obvious allusion to farming — plough-plant-reap — wrapped up in a standard moral teaching:

As I have seen, those who plow mischief,                                                                        those who plant wretchedness, reap it. (Job 4:8)

We then move to the animal kingdom, where the lion is used as another line of evidence in the case for the traditional system of retribution:

The lion’s roar, the maned beast’s  sound –                                                                     and the young lions’ teeth are smashed.

The king of beasts dies with no prey,                                                                               the whelps of the lion are scattered.  (Job 4:10-11)

Apparently there are five different words in Hebrew for lion and the writer of Job demonstrates his impressive lexical wealth by using all five within two sentences creating a headache for the translators!

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4, TNIV)

I recently read an interesting BBC report on the plight of the Griffon Vulture in the land of the Israel which has inspired this blog post.  Here is the article that describes the decline in numbers of these vultures due the pest control used by local farmers:

“Farmers whose animals have been repeatedly attacked by wolves and jackals have resorted to leaving out meat laced with deadly chemicals. … The vulture can eat almost anything, including meat infected with anthrax, so giving it a valuable ecological role. But it cannot cope with the poisons being used against wolves.” (Bob Walker, BBC Today Programme Report)

The Griffon Vulture is mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the Bible; however, it is usually translated as eagle in our English translations of the Hebrew.

“The word Nesher, is invariably translated … as “Eagle”.  However, the Nesher which was undoubtedly not actually the Eagle, but a different kind of bird, and has satisfactorily been identified with the Griffon Vulture or Great Vulture. The reasons for this conclusion are so inextricably interwoven with the various passages in which the bird is mentioned.” (http://www.thewonderofbirds.com/griffon-vulture/)

Here are a few Bible passages which nicely describe the vultures characteristics:

Swiftness

Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and admired,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
” (2 Samuel 1:23, TNIV)

Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.
” (Lamentations 4:19, TNIV)

Longevity

Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
… who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
” (Psalm 103:1,5, TNIV)

Building nests at high elevations

“The terror you inspire
and the pride of your heart have deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rocks,
who occupy the heights of the hill.
Though you build your nest as high as the eagle’s,
from there I will bring you down,”
declares the LORD.
” (Jeremiah 49:16, TNIV)

Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.
” (Job 39:27-30, TNIV)

“Viewing these various passages in which the Nesher is mentioned in the Bible, we shall find that the sacred writers were thoroughly acquainted with the Griffon Vulture, and that they wrote of it with an occasional fulness and an invariable precision which shows how familiar they were with a bird that was once so plentiful and so conspicuous.”  (http://www.thewonderofbirds.com/griffon-vulture/)

For the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted inheritance.
In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft.

The LORD alone led him;
no foreign god was with him.
” (Deuteronomy 32:9-12, TNIV)